Men and women held equal status in ancient city of Catalhoyuk
Overlooking the Konya Plain in Turkey lies the remarkable and unique ancient city of Çatalhöyük, the largest and best-preserved Neolithic site found to date. At a time when most of the world's people were nomadic hunter-gatherers, Çatalhöyük was a bustling town of as many as 10,000 people. According to a 2014 report in Hurriyet Daily News, archaeologists have now gained new insights into the ancient city as further excavation work has revealed that Çatalhöyük was a place of gender equality, where men and women held equal status.
Çatalhöyük, which means 'forked mound' and refers to the site's east and west mounds, features a unique and peculiar street-less settlement of houses clustered together in a honeycomb-like maze with most accessed by holes in the ceiling, which also served as the only source of ventilation into the house. The rooftops were effectively streets and may have formed plazas where many daily activities may have taken place. The homes had plaster interiors and each main room served for cooking and daily activities.
Çatalhöyük was a street-less settlement of houses clustered together in a honeycomb-like maze. Image source.
Through analysis of wall paintings, sculptures, and burials, researchers have concluded that men and women held equal status in Çatalhöyük.
“Thanks to modern scientific techniques, we have seen that women and men were eating very similar foods, lived similar lives and worked in similar works,” said Stanford University Professor Ian Hodder, who directed the excavations. “The same social stature was given to both men and women.”
The level of equality also extended beyond gender and appears to have applied to the society as a whole.
“People lived with the principle of equality in Çatalhöyük, especially considering the hierarchy that appeared in other settlements in the Middle East. This makes Çatalhöyük different. There was no leader, government or administrative building,” Professor Hodder said.
Another interesting discovery that emerged from excavations was that burials of the deceased, which were typically in pits under the floor or beneath hearths in houses, were not organised according to family relationships.
“We have also seen that people who were buried under houses were not biologically relatives or members of the same family. They lived as a family but their natural parents are not the same. Those who were born in Çatalhöyük did not live with their biological parents but with others,” said Hodder.
A pit burial in Çatalhöyük. Image source.
Çatalhöyük is now a UNESCO World Heritage listed site and has attracted thousands of academics from more than twenty countries to its archaeological works, set to be finished in 2018.
Çatalhöyük was first discovered in 1958 by James Mellaart, and the first excavations were carried out in 1961. Since 1995, an enormous archaeological project has been taking place each season and surprising new discoveries continue to be made every year.
The southern excavation shelter at Çatalhöyük. Image source.
Featured image: Artist's impression of Çatalhöyük. Image credit: Dan Lewandowski.